Cирена (Siren) by Anna Prismanova

In that land we tried to speak
of thirst, unquenchable thirst,
of a mournful cry that pierced us in the dark
and was halted in mid-flight.

But in the silence there reaches out for us
a steamboat’s cry, the crying of its soul,
it pulls us in, inviting and in parting,
as it sails into the age-old twilight.

This high-flown, antediluvian howl,
that the head and insides both absorb,
that even soaks into the legs –
is the union of peace and anxiety.

The steamboat sails off into the darkness and the night.
But it’s as if the siren’s wail died long ago.
As in the time of crusades when knights
were blessed on their way by ringing church bells.

And we, my dear, will leave like this, exactly,
having spent our last small ounce of arrogance,
we’ll leave – moving restlessly into the night,
we’ll have taken little and won’t have weighed the consequences.

The siren awaits us at the end of the earth,
and I know already the torment that she bears:
she wants us all to follow in her footsteps,
and wishes too we’d leave her all alone.

And so the steamboat howls, and howls the darkness.
I’ve not the strength to counteract these howls.
It’s possible that I myself am howling
inside the funnel of just a boat as this.

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(Date unknown – before 1953)
translated by Bradley Jordan
from the poetry collection Трубы (Trumpets/Tubes/Pipes)

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Additional information: There is a dedication in the Russian version, ‘В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому‘, omitted from the translation. This refers to Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891 -1966) who was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright.

I am unsure of the exact date of the poem but a Russian website listing the poetry collection it is from has an end note stating “The poem was included in the anthology In the West: An Anthology of Russian Foreign Poetry. Comp. Y.P.Ivask. New York. Ed. Chekhov. 1953. p. 226.” which refers to the book published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry).

Prismanova is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femininity in her poetry.

Prismanova’s origins and early life are obscure. She appears in emigration in Paris in the mid-1920s, and her first published collection, Ten’ itelo (Shadow and Body) (1937), contains poems beginning in 1929. She and her poet husband, Aleksandr Ginger, remained in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Responding to the wave of patriotic feeling and longing for Russia that appeared among emigres after the war, they both accepted Soviet passports, though they continued to live in Paris.

Prismanova was best known in the emigre world for intimate lyrics that manifest her spiritual searching for real truth in herself, in language, and in literary form. Prismanova’s poem “Vera” (1960), about the heroic, revolutionary populist Vera Figner (1852-1942), amazed readers by its portrait of a figure so unlike the poet and her intimate lyrical themes. Overshadowed by the more vocal figures of emigration, she was nevertheless a highly intelligent, subtle, and sensitive poet.

Biographical information about Prismanova, p.342-343, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

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Cирена

В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому
Cтаpалиcь мы cказать на cей земле
о жажде и ее неутоленьи,
о кpике cкоpби, pвущем наc во мгле
и оcтановленном в cвоем cтpемленьи.
Но нам навcтpечу тянетcя в тиши
влекущий наc, пpизывный и пpощальный,
кpик паpоxода, кpик его души,
уже плывущей в cумpак изначальный.
Вбираемый нутpом и головой,
пpоcачивающийcя даже в ноги,
cей выcпpенний и допотопный вой
cлияние покоя и тpевоги.
Во мглу и в ночь уxодит паpоxод.
Но cтон cиpены как бы замеp в оном.
Так pыцаpи в кpеcтовый шли поxод,
напутcтвуемые цеpковным звоном.
И мы, душа моя, вот так, точь-в-точь,
утpатив до конца оcтаток cпеcи,
уйдем – вдвигаяcь неотcтупно в ночь,
немного взяв и ничего не взвеcив.
Cиpена ждет наc на конце земли,
и знаю я – томленье в ней какое:
ей xочетcя и чтоб за нею шли,
и чтоб ее оcтавили в покое…
Так воет паpоxод, и воет тьма.
Пpотиводейcтвовать такому вою
не в cилаx я. Я, может быть, cама
в тpубе такого паpоxода вою.

Папиросники (Cigarette Pedlars) by Sergey Yesenin

Avenues so wretched,

snowbanks, bitter frost.

Desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

Wandering dirty avenues,

enjoying evil games –

all of them are pickpockets,

all are jolly thieves.

That bunch takes Nikitskaya,

this – Tverskaya Square.

They stand, sombrely whistling,

the livelong day out there.

They dash to all the barrooms

and, with some time to spare,

they pore over Pinkerton

out loud over a beer.

Let the beer be bitter –

beer or not, they’re soused.

All rave about New York,

all dream of San Frantsisk…

Then again, so wretchedly,

they walk out in the frost –

desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

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by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1923)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

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A recital of the poem by the actor Кирилл Радциг (Kirill Radzig).

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic:

Папиросники

Улицы печальные,
Сугробы да мороз.
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.
Грязных улиц странники
В забаве злой игры,
Все они — карманники,
Веселые воры.
Тех площадь — на Никитской,
А этих — на Тверской.
Стоят с тоскливым свистом
Они там день-деньской.
Снуют по всем притонам
И, улучив досуг,
Читают Пинкертона
За кружкой пива вслух.
Пускай от пива горько,
Они без пива — вдрызг.
Все бредят Нью-Йорком,
Всех тянет в Сан-Франциск.
Потом опять печально
Выходят на мороз
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.

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Information:

Nikitskaya is a radial street that runs west from Mokhovaya Street to Garden Ring in Moscow, between Vozdvizhenka Street (south) and Tverskaya Street (north).

Tverskaya Square is a square in Central Administrative Okrug in Moscow. Belorussky railway station faces the square. The streets which terminate at the square are, in counterclockwise order, Leningradsky Avenue, Gruzinsky Val, 2nd Brestskaya Street, 1st Brestskaya Street, 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street, Lesnaya Street, and Butyrsky Val.

Pinkerton likely references to Allan J. Pinkerton (25 August 1819 – 1 July 1884) who was a Scottish–American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He produced numerous popular detective books, ostensibly based on his own exploits and those of his agents. Some were published after his death, and they are considered to have been more motivated by a desire to promote his detective agency than a literary endeavour. Most historians believe that Allan Pinkerton hired ghostwriters, but the books nonetheless bear his name and no doubt reflect his views.

‘Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail’ by Sergey Yesenin

Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail –

pounding on the rooftop, driving in white nails!

But me – I’m not frightened, and I know my fate:

my wastrel heart has nailed me to you – nailed us tight!

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1925)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

‘Twilight was turning to darkness outside…’ by Vladislav Khodasevich

Twilight was turning to darkness outside.

Under the eaves a window banged wide.

 

A curtain was lifted, a light briefly shone,

a swift shadow fell down the wall and was gone.

 

Happy the man who falls head first to death:

at least for a moment his viewpoint is fresh.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn

‘Mist Climbs From The Lake’ by Sergey Yesenin

Mist climbs from the lake.

Fields bare after harvest.

Beyond blue hills

the sun rolls to its rest.

 

Splintered, deep in ruts,

the weary road thinks

it cannot be long now

till grey-haired winter.

 

In the misty, resonant grove

I watched yesterday

as a bay moon, like a foal,

harnessed herself to our sleigh.

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin) a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler